Chapter 5 – The Holy Ghost Takes Possession – Rees Howells: Intercessor by Norman Grubb
On his return from America, Rees had settled down again in the old family home, where he had received a great welcome. Instead of returning to the tin mill, however, like several of his brothers, he now found employment in a neighboring mine, about a mile away in the valley, working underground at the coal-face-the hardest job of all.
His spare time was spent in the activities of the Revival, but the sense of spiritual need was growing among the workers, and in 1906 a large party decided to spend their summer holiday-week seeking the Lord in a special way at the Llandrindod Wells Convention, the counterpart in Wales of the English Keswick Convention for the deepening of spiritual life. For Rees Howells this was to be, after his new birth, the most revolutionary event in his life.
Shortly before they were due to go, Rees was in a meeting in Brynamman, where a young woman read Romans 8:26-30. She could only read very slowly, which gave time for each word to sink in: “Predestinated… justified.., glorified.” As Rees listened, he said to himself, “I know I am predestinated according to the foreknowledge of God, and justified — but am I glorified?” That puzzled him and the question was constantly in his mind: What does it mean to be glorified?
Two days later, in the train on the way to Llandrindod, with this thought still before him, a voice spoke to him: “When you return, you will be a new man.” “But I am a new man,” he protested. “‘No,” came the answer, “you are a child.” The others in the carriage were singing the newest song of the Revival, The Glory Song, but Rees never heard it; he kept pacing the corridor with that voice ringing in his ears: “You will be a new man.”
On the first morning of the Convention the preacher who was perhaps the greatest expositor on the life in the Spirit that Keswick has produced, the Rev. Evan Hopkins, spoke on Ephesians 2:1-6: “You hath He quickened.., and hath raised us up… and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” He pointed out that it was the Risen Lord who had appeared to the disciples after the resurrection; but when the Holy Ghost came down He revealed the exalted Saviour at the right hand of the Father. Mr. Hopkins then asked the question, “Have you been quickened by Christ? Have you been raised up to sit with Him in heavenly places?” In his heart Rees answered, “Yes, I know I have been quickened, but I have not been raised up with Christ to that place of power,” and the moment he said that, he saw the Glorified Lord. “As really as I had seen the Crucified Christ and the Risen Christ, I saw the Glorified Christ, and the voice I had heard in the train said to me, ‘Would you like to sit there with Him? There is a place for you,’ and I saw myself raised up with Him. I knew now what it meant to be ‘glorified’. I saw Him as John did in Patmos, and I was dazzled like the Apostle Paul. When He reveals a thing, it is exactly as it is, it is not imagination. All that night I was in the presence of God and my glorified Saviour. There is nothing in nature refined enough to describe it. I saw men as trees walking.”
The next morning Mr. Hopkins spoke about the Holy Spirit. He made it plain that He is a Person, with all the faculties of a Person, exactly like the Saviour. He has intelligence, love and a will of His own; and as a Person, before He comes to live in a man, He must be given full possession of his body. “As he spoke,” Rees said, “the Holy Ghost appeared to me and I knew Him to be the One who had spoken to me the day before and shown me that place of splendor and glory into which natural eyes can never look. It never dawned on me before that the Holy Ghost was a Person exactly like the Saviour, and that He must come and dwell in flesh and blood. In fact, the Church knows more about the Saviour, who was only on the earth thirty-three years, than about the Holy Ghost who has been here two thousand years. I had only thought of Him as an Influence coming on meetings, and that Was what most of us in the Revival thought. I had never seen that He must live in bodies, as the Saviour lived in His on earth.”
The meeting with the Holy Ghost was just as real to Rees Howells as his meeting with the Saviour those years before. “I saw Him as a Person apart from flesh and blood, and He said to me, ‘As the Saviour had a body, so I dwell in the cleansed temple” of the believer. I am a Person. I am God, and I am come to ask you to give your body to Me that I may work through it. I need a body for My temple (1 Cor. 6:19), but it must belong to Me without reserve, for two persons with different wills can never live in the same body. Will you give Me yours? (Rom. 12:1). But if I come in, I come as God, and you must go out (Col. 3:2, 3). I shall not mix Myself with your self.’
“He made it very plain that He would never share my life. I saw the honor He gave me in offering to indwell me, but there were many things very dear. to me, and I knew He wouldn’t keep one of them. The change He would make was very clear. It meant every bit of my fallen nature was to go to the Cross, and He would bring in His own life and His own nature.”
It was unconditional surrender. From the meeting Rees went out into a field, where he cried his heart out, because, as he said, “I had received a sentence of death, as really as a prisoner in the dock. I had lived in my body for twenty-six years, and could I easily give it up? Who could give his life up to another person in an hour? Why does a man struggle when death comes, if it is easy to die? I knew that the only place fit for the old nature was on the cross. Paul makes that very plain in Romans 6. But once this is done in reality, it is done for ever. I could not run into this. I intended to do it, but oh, the cost! I wept for days. I lost seven pounds in weight, just because I saw what He was offering me. How I wished I had never seen it! One thing He reminded me of was that He had only come to take what I had already promised the Saviour, not in part, but the whole. Since He died for me, I had died in Him, and I knew that the new life was His and not mine. That had been clear in my mind for three years; so He had only come to take what was his own: and I saw that only the Holy Ghost in me could live like the Saviour. Everything He told me appealed to me; it was only a question of the loss there would be in doing it. I didn’t give my answer in a moment, and He didn’t want me to.”
It took five days to make the decision, clays which. were spent alone with God. “Like Isaiah, I saw the holiness of God,” he said, “and seeing Him, I saw my own corrupt nature. It wasn’t sins that I saw, but nature touched by the Fall. I was corrupt to the core. I knew I had to be cleansed; I saw there was as much difference between the Holy Ghost and myself as between light and darkness.”
“Nothing is more real to me than the process I went through for that whole week,” he continued. “The Holy Spirit went on dealing with me, exposing the root of my nature which was self, and you can only get out of a thing what is in its root. Sin was canceled, and it wasn’t sin He was dealing with; it was self — that thing which came from the Fall. He was not going to take any superficial surrender. He put His finger on each part of my self-life, and I had to decide in cold blood. He could never take a thing away until I gave my consent. Then the moment I gave it, some purging took place (Isaiah 6:5-7), and I could never touch that thing again. It was not saying I was purged and the thing still having a hold on me: no, it was a breaking, and the Holy Ghost taking control. Day by day the dealing went on. He was coming in as God, and I had lived as man, and ‘what is permissible to an ordinary man,’ He told me, ‘will not be permissible to you.’”
This “Llandrindod experience” was the crisis, which was followed by the process of sanctification (see Mr. Howells’ own comment on p. 100) during which the Holy Spirit, on the basis of his initial surrender, step by step replaced the self-nature with His own divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). First there was the love of money, that “root of evil” which had formerly taken Rees to America. The Lord told him that He would take out of his nature all taste for money, and any ambition for the ownership of money. “I had to consider what that meant,” Rees said. “Money would be no more to me than it was to John the Baptist or to the Saviour. To an extent this was dealt with in my new birth, but now the Holy Ghost was getting at the root.” The dealings on that lasted a whole day, and by the evening his “attitude towards money had entirely changed.” Then there was the fact that he would never have the right to a choice in making a home. “I saw I could never give my life to another person to live to that one alone. Could the Saviour have given His life and attention to one person, instead of to a lost world? Neither could the Holy Ghost. He took plenty of time to show me exactly what it would mean: the life He would live would be for the world. Was I willing for that?”
Other things that were dealt with included ambition. How could he have any if the Holy Ghost came in? The way the Lord showed it to him was like this: Supposing he had a mission in a town, and another mission opened in the same place; if there was jealousy between the two, and it was better for the town only to have one, then it would be his which would have to go. Or suppose that he and another man should apply for the same job, he would have to let the other have it. Or if he were earning 12s. a day, and another man with a family was earning much less, the Spirit could tell him to give his job to that man. He saw the Holy Ghost in ways like that taking the place of the other, and suffering instead of him. Yes, he was willing for that.
On the fifth day his reputation was touched. As he was thinking of men of the Bible who were full of the Holy Ghost, and particularly John the Baptist, the Lord said to him, “Then I may live through you the kind of life I lived through him.” A Nazarite clothed in camel’s hair, living in a desert! Even in this, or what might be its modem equivalent, a real decision had to be made. “If I live My life in you, and that is the kind of life I choose, you can’t stop Me,” was the Lord’s word on it. As the Saviour was despised, he must be willing to be the same.
By Friday night each point had been faced. He knew exactly what he was offered, the choice between temporal and eternal gain. The Spirit summed the issue up for him: “On no account will I allow you to cherish a single thought of self, and the life I will live in you will be one hundred per cent for others. You will never be able to save yourself, any more than the Saviour could when He was on earth. Now, are you willing?” He was to give a final answer.
That night a friend said to him, “If some of us come over after the meeting, will you tell us of your position in Christ?” At once the Spirit challenged him: “How can you do that? You have seen the position of the overcomers, but you have not yet entered it. I have been dealing with you for five days; you must give Me your decision by six o’clock tonight, and remember, your will must go. On no account will I allow you to bring in a cross-current. Where I send you, you will go; what I say to you, you Will do.” It was the final battle on the will.
“I asked Him for more time,” Rees continued, “but He said, ‘You will not have a minute after six o’clock.’ When I heard that it was exactly as if a wild beast was roused in me. ‘You gave me a free will,’ I answered, ‘and now You force me to give it up.’ ‘I do not force you,’ He replied, ‘but for three years have you not been saying that you are not your own, and that you wanted to give your life back to the Saviour as completely as He gave His for you?’ I climbed down in a second. The way I had said it was an insult to the Trinity. ‘I am sorry,’ I told Him, ‘I didn’t mean what I said.’ ‘You are not forced M give up your will,’ He said again, ‘but at six o’clock I will take your decision. After that you will never get another chance.’ It was my last offer, my last chance! I saw that Throne (Rev. 3:21), and all my future for eternity going. I said, ‘Please forgive me, I want to do it.’
“Once more the question came, ‘Are you willing?’ It was ten minutes to six. I wanted to do it, but I could not. Your mind is keen when you are tested, and in a flash it came to me, ‘How can self be willing to give up self?’ Five to six came. I was afraid of those last five minutes. I could count the ticks of the clock. Then the Spirit spoke again. ‘If you can’t be willing, would you like Me to help you? Are you willing to be made willing?’ ‘Take care,’ the enemy whispered. ‘When a stronger person than yourself is on the other side, to be willing to be made willing, is just the same as to be willing.’ .As I was thinking upon that point I looked at the clock. It was one minute to six. I bowed my head and said, ‘Lord, I am willing.’”
Within an hour the Third Person of the Godhead has come in. He gave him that word in Heb. 10:19, “Having therefore boldness to enter into the Holiest by the blood of Jesus,” and “Immediately,” said Rees, “I was transported into another realm, within that sacred veil, where the Father, the Saviour and the Holy Ghost live. There I heard God speaking, to me, and I have lived there ever since. When the Holy Ghost enters, He comes in to ‘abide for ever.’ To the Blood be the glory!
“How I adored the grace of God! It is God who goes so far as to give us repentance. It was God who helped me to give up my will. There were some things He had asked for during the week that I was able to give, because I was the master of them, but when He asked me to give up my self and my will, I found I could not-until he pulled me through.”
An eyewitness tells us that no words can describe the little meeting in the house that night; the glory of God came down. Rees started the chorus: “There’s power in the Blood,” and they couldn’t stop singing for two hours; then from 9 p.m. to 2.30 a.m. it was “nothing but the Holy Ghost speaking things I had never dreamed of and exalting the Saviour.”
When he woke next morning, he said, “I realized that the Holy Ghost had come in to ‘abide for ever.’ The feeling I had was that ‘He brought me to the banqueting house, and His banner over me’ was love.’ It is impossible to describe the floods of joy that followed.”
Rees Howells was not a person who was given to public speaking, he was naturally quiet and retiring; but when the Holy Ghost entered, He loosed his tongue, and brought His own boldness in. There was a praise meeting that morning in the Convention Tent, with about a thousand present, including some two hundred ministers: The first person Rees saw there was his own minister, and if anything could have stopped him speaking, it was the fact of his presence. But during the meeting, he stood up and told them clearly and calmly that he was calling them all to be witnesses that the same Holy Ghost who had entered the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, had entered him, and would produce similar results. The effect was so great that during the next week, when crowds had gathered to hear messages from a famous speaker, literally hundreds came to ask Rees how the Holy Ghost had entered him. It was the first stream of those promised rivers which, as Jesus said, flow out of those in whom the Spirit dwells.